Journal of East Asian Archeology, 2001 vol. 3 no 1-2
Abstract: The exceptional quality and enormous quantity of bronzes included in the elite tombs of
the Dian Culture in central Yunnan Province provide an excellent opportunity to explore
the interplay among craft specialization, ritual, and political power. Although Yunnan
contains some of China’s richest deposits of copper, lead, and tin, the early phases of
bronze metallurgy there are still very poorly represented in the archaeological record.
By the mid-first millennium bc, however, the technology of bronze production had
reached a very high level of sophistication, and bronzes played a crucial military, ritual,
and social role in Dian society. It appears that a close, symbiotic relationship existed
between Dian metallurgical craftsmen and their elite patrons. Present evidence suggests
that possession of bronzes, and the control over the means to produce them, invested
the Dian elite with the ability to acquire and maintain power and control over their own
people and many of their neighbors. Among the Dian, primarily endogenous political
and ritual developments fostered the rapid specialization of the metallurgical craft.
Under the patronage of the Dian elite, metalworkers developed complicated methods of
casting using piece-molds and investment processes (such as lost wax casting), combined
with a variety of mechanical joinery techniques to produce vibrant and detailed scenes
of warfare, ritual, and other aspects of Dian life. With the careful attention devoted
to details of ethnic identification, military prowess, social status, and ritual activities,
these objects both legitimated and maintained Dian political and religious power and
prestige in the eyes of the Dian people and of their non-Dian neighbors.